MusiCoder Profile: Javier Orman, violinist, composer, improvisor, data scientist

What is your current programming and musical life?
I just started as an Artificial Intelligence Apprentice at LinkedIn in July, so I’m working and learning full time. Outside of work, I am still studying Machine Learning on my own, so programming and Data Science occupy a large portion of my days. I still make music most nights of the week and weekends as well, which is a nice balance so far.

What is your primary instrument and what age did you start learning it? Did you study any other instruments, either as a child or an adult?
My primary instrument is violin, which I started to learn at four years old. I went on to study Classical violin in college, so that was my specialization for a long time. I can also play some piano, guitar and a few percussion instruments, but I did not train for those. Besides traditional instruments, I also compose and produce music, a lot of which is drum-machine- and synth-based on my laptop.

What was your experience of learning a musical instrument, and how did it differ from your experience in learning to program?
Learning a musical instrument all the way to mastery is an enormous challenge but is worth the effort if you have a passion for it. It does take years upon years of consistent effort and an acceptance that progress can be very nonlinear. However, the end result is that you have a means of expression and artistic identity that is something to cherish.

Programming has felt more predictable to me and with that comes a sense of comfort that I oftentimes didn’t have in music, at least until recent years. This is not to say that it’s easy… it’s anything but! However, I have found that whenever I encounter a tough concept/problem in programming (which happens on a daily basis), I can find enough resources to help build my intuition around it or learn from someone else’s approach. I can then incorporate the solution in my arsenal, which helps me grow for the next problem. That transfer of information and knowledge happens in music as well (through one-on-one music lessons, for example), but for me it has felt more natural in programming.

Another difference is that in music, more often than not there is no right answer. That’s a beautifully human aspect that doesn’t transfer as much to other areas. I have spent countless hours rewriting songs, or working out different tones for just a few notes in a Bach Fugue, and that is a uniquely subjective process.

An important commonality between music and programming is the ability to visualize complex processes in your head. In both disciplines, you have an overall vision (an aesthetic or a story in the case of music and an engineered solution or system in programming) that guides the smaller decisions. Being able to build and follow that vision is a key aspect of both and requires imagination and intuition.

How old were you when you started programming? Why did you start programming?
I began programming in April 2020, when I was 36. Initially, it was due to economic hardship due to COVID-19. However, it quickly turned into a new love, something that I look forward to learning and working on every day.

Do you have any specialisms in your musical performance?
I would have to count the violin, production, media composition, and teaching as my specialties.

Do you have any specialisms in your programming?
Data Science and its subfields, particularly Analytics and Machine Learning. I also work with Databases, have done Data Mining and I’m getting more and more comfortable with Data Engineering, time series analysis and traditional Statistics in general.

Do you hold degrees in music, computer science, or something else?
I hold Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Music. I also hold a Bachelor’s degree in Math, which I never intended to use but is now coming in handy, to say the least!

What influence, if any, does your musical background have on your programming, and vice versa?
The discipline and determination to work through tough problems (say learning and performing a Concerto) and the ability to incorporate feedback and (constructive) criticism on a regular basis are two skills that transfer to programming. Also, having been a part of dozens and dozens of teams (chamber music groups, orchestras or working with sound engineers and producers) have prepared me to more easily fit in any team for projects big and small. In music, it’s an everyday challenge to learn/practice/compose/perform with people of different backgrounds and with different personalities in high-pressure situations and that’s an invaluable skill to have in general.

Aside from music and software, what other hobbies or pursuits do you have?
I dedicate any free time that I can to my son. Together, we go out and explore, play soccer, video games and jam on drums and guitar. I also enjoy going out with friends, exercising and going on long walks with my dog.

What would you say to a musician considering a career change into programming?
To try it! Everyone is wired differently, but they might find a new field that engages them just as much as music (this was the case for me) and that may help them lead a rewarding, productive life. Most musicians, by the very nature of the discipline, are well prepared to teach themselves new skills, learn well from others and work in scenarios that require imagination and vision.

And finally, what advice would you give your younger self when you started programming?
To turn off any doubts and negative voices (there are lots of “Is Data Science dead?” types of articles out there) and just enjoy learning. It can be a fantastic journey to grow in this field and we’re quite lucky that we are able to learn from countless resources and that more established folks in the business are usually generous with sharing their time and expertise.

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